Time lapse of a four-lane road.
Credit: Jonathan Petersson / Creative Commons

The following commentary was written by Brian Gemmell and Graeme Cooper. Gemmell is the chief clean energy development officer at National Grid in the U.S. Graeme Cooper is the head of future markets for National Grid in the United Kingdom. See our commentary guidelines for more information.

The electric vehicle revolution is nearly upon us, as carmakers roll out moderately priced EV models that feature sparkling new technology, longer-lasting battery life, and eye-catching designs.

But to make the revolution possible, a vast electric charging network is needed to fuel these cars and allay driver concerns about running out of charge far from a charging station.

According to a recent study by consulting firm Ernst & Young, EV sales will outpace fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks by 2033 in the world’s largest auto markets. According to the same study, non-EV sales will be less than 1% of the global car market by 2045.

With carbon emissions from transportation currently the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, a transition to emissions-free EVs is good news. With EV costs falling and gas prices rising, buying an emissions-free electric vehicle is already a sensible choice.

One major obstacle remains: charging EVs. With a transportation sector dependent on fossil fuels, the necessary infrastructure to rapidly charge many EVs is in its infancy. Today, charging an EV isn’t like filling a gas tank. A full charge can take anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours. That’s an impediment for someone who’s driving 400 miles to their grandmother’s house.

And what about large fleets of vehicles, such as trucks used by Amazon or UPS? While the typical driver may just travel 40 miles daily, some fleet vehicles can travel hundreds of miles every day, requiring regular refueling. Electrifying these fleet and long-haul vehicles will require dedicated charging infrastructure.

To meet the aggressive decarbonization and climate change goals established in the U.S. by the Biden administration and leading states like New York and Massachusetts, investing in EV charging infrastructure must be a priority. The bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being considered in Congress provides a good start. It includes $7.5 billion to build out a national network of EV chargers and another $2.5 billion to advance EV buses. But that is just a start.

As we look to address needs in the U.S., we can take some lessons from “across the pond.” In July, the United Kingdom released the world’s first “greenprint” to decarbonize all modes of domestic transport by 2050. The Transport Decarbonization Plan is the first zero emissions transport plan for a major economy, addressing everything from aviation to maritime transport to roads and rails.

The plan not only includes phasing out production of polluting light-duty vehicles by 2035 and by 2040 for heavy-duty vehicles — but also a commitment to deploy thousands of ultra-fast charging stations. The plan also includes reducing all emissions by 55% by 2030.

The greenprint’s focus on electric vehicles deserves attention in the U.S. The U.K.’s plan offers three major lessons:

1. Supporting electric vehicle charging will require investment in enabling infrastructure.

A transition to EVs — here in the U.S. and in Europe — will require a significant shift in infrastructure. High-speed charging stations along freeways, and near neighborhoods and businesses, will be needed.

In order to help eliminate range anxiety, the U.K. has undertaken an effort — appropriately named Project Rapid — to ensure that there is a rapid-charging network ready to meet the needs of future electric vehicle customers. The U.K. started from the premise that every motorist is always within 30 miles of a fast-charging station. To achieve that mandate, the U.K. government pledged $1.3 billion to support the installation of at least six ultra-rapid chargers at every highway service station by 2023, with 6,000 fast chargers installed by 2035.

For obvious reasons, the U.S. will have to make a much larger investment to meet EV customers’ needs across a much bigger country. For example, today in New York there are roughly 60,000 electric vehicles registered. For the state to stay on track to meet its clean energy mandates, there will need to be 850,000 electric vehicles registered in by 2025. To achieve an acceptable level of fast charger penetration to support all those vehicles will require not only investment in chargers themselves, but the grid infrastructure to deliver electricity to those chargers.

2. Heavy-duty vehicles will be key to meeting emissions goals and reducing local pollution.

Heavy-duty vehicles, truck fleets and buses make up a disproportionate percentage of the CO2 emissions emitted in the U.S. In Massachusetts, heavy-duty vehicles account for just 3% of on-road vehicles, but make up almost 30% of vehicle CO2 emissions.

Electrification of fleets, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles will improve air quality and noise pollution within environmental justice communities, which are most impacted by heavy vehicle traffic, near distribution centers or major highways.

We need a plan for electrifying large fleet needs now because addressing them will offer significant payoff in terms of reduced emissions.

3. Policymakers, industry, and communities must work together.

The success of the U.K.’s Transportation Greenprint will depend not only on government efforts to encourage and incentivize this shift, but also private investment and community support.

Here in the U.S., policymakers, industry leaders, and communities must work together to site and install charging stations and invest in the electric network that powers them. In many states, the commitment to cleaner transportation systems has already been made. But the hard part remains: making that commitment a reality.

The EV future is coming: In just nine years, at least three of every 10 cars sold in the U.S will be electric. The electric network must be ready to meet that significant growth in demand. Three critical industry sectors — energy, transportation and digital technology — must collaborate to make the EV future a reality.

We can start planning for that decarbonized future right now — and take a few lessons from our friends overseas as we do so.